Benjamin Franklin: The First Mr. American

benjamin franklin

 

To determine who is today’s “true great American” is a challenging question to answer definitively. Naturally, many might start (probably Americans first) by listing music and film stars (maybe Tom Hanks?), presidents, reality TV stars, businessmen… Some might take a more grounded approach, perhaps naming a scientist, explorer, or spiritual leader… and others might say the real great Americans are those whose names we don’t know, like doctors, firefighters, and others who protect them or enable a comfortable life… yes, it’s hard to give a proper answer…

But answering who was the “first great American” might be easier (and no, it’s not George Washington)… especially when there’s a man who was (literally) bestowed with that exact title. 🙂

 

Benjamin Franklin Bendžamin Franklin Prvi veliki Amerikanac Finesa

 

“Benjamin Franklin: The First Mr. American” is a book that attempts to portray who this Boston kid was, who, for many people around the world, is only remembered as one of the creators of the document known as “The Declaration of Independence” or as the silly old man who flew a kite (I mean a flying kite-toy, not something metaphorical 😁 ) with a key attached and discovered the power of electricity. I believe many remember him in this way. 🙂

No, no… our dear Benji was much more than that. Reading this biography, you will be amazed to learn what he did and achieved in his twenties (when most people of that age can hardly be bothered to go to university lectures or work), and then think, “Impossible, I couldn’t achieve all this even by forty!”.

But let’s start from the beginning…

 

Benjamin Franklin Bendžamin Franklin Prvi veliki Amerikanac Finesa
I’m sexy and I know it…

 

Benji was born at the beginning of the 18th century (precisely, in 1706), as the fifteenth child of his father Josiah (there were no consoles, internet, Netflix, or board games back then, ladies and gentlemen, people “entertained” themselves differently 😉 ). This Boston kid showed from a young age that he didn’t share the views of his (for him) backward and stagnant environment. Since it was clear that he wasn’t meant to be a priest or to make candles, he, as a kid, hung around a printing press and discovered his first passions – books and typesetting for the newspapers of the time. And from that moment, the world would never be the same for Benji, nor for the people who would meet him in his coming years… especially when he moved to Philadelphia.

It’s hard to list all his endeavors and accomplishments, not just for his immediate environment but for Europe and the entire world.

Through the book “Benjamin Franklin: The First Mr. American”, we see (first) what kind of person he was. Versatile, a man of many talents (a polymath, like Da Vinci), creative, measured (he himself said that it took him time to understand that there was no benefit from impulsive reactions), well-read, charming, and quite humorous (and occasionally sarcastic).

And what he did in his lifetime… it all started from improving the local printing press’s operations to writing short texts/comments under the pseudonym Silence Dogood, where he posed as a middle-aged widow and concerned citizen. Then he moved to Philadelphia, and the rest is history. He became the owner of a printing press (The Pennsylvania Gazette), published the famous almanac under the pseudonym Poor Richard (Poor Richard’s Almanack), which allowed him to spread his advanced worldviews (and also to amuse his readers or sabotage his rivals through humor).

 

Benjamin Franklin Bendžamin Franklin Prvi veliki Amerikanac Finesa

 

He founded “The Society” (initially known as “The Leather Apron Club”), an association that gathered people who loved to read and improve themselves in various fields, such as philosophy, mathematics, medicine, general sciences, politics, economics, etc., with the goal of helping people in the vicinity with their knowledge and ideas.

He was the initiator of the idea of a library financed by membership fees and accessible only to members (and students… but not like a typical public library).

He became the head of the postal service and made drastic reforms, introduced improved accounting and new approaches in transportation (there was no “PostExpress” and other luxuries back then, just mount a horse and there you are in some town across the country in seven days), which led to the postal service becoming profitable for the first time in its existence.

He is considered the inventor of the lightning rod, glass harmonica (musical instrument), bifocal glasses, flexible urinary catheter… you have probably heard of Franklin stoves (which produced more heat and less smoke).

He studied physics, biology, philosophy, demography, meteorology, explored the impact of temperature on conductivity, studied seas and ships… he improved many of these fields, always being more of a practitioner than a theorist.

And then there’s his participation in city defense technologies and military tactics. And finally, politics. Although very educated and well-read, he didn’t consider himself a particularly skilled speaker (he was better at written word). But this didn’t stop him from traveling several times to Great Britain, France, and other European countries, giving scientific lectures, receiving honorary titles from various universities…

 

Benjamin Franklin Bendžamin Franklin Prvi veliki Amerikanac Finesa

 

“So, he’s almost like a saint,” someone might think/say. Far from it! He was a great innovator, but far from perfect. Although he tried to be modest, he still amassed great wealth. His house, furniture, clothing, and accessories were always fashionable, he had servants, carriages…

There’s also his peculiar relationship with his wife Deborah (whom he loved a lot, but there didn’t seem to be much passion, even for those times), his relationship with his children and grandchildren. We’ll see how he treated friends, and how he treated enemies, as well as the wrong moves he made in life (especially in politics).

What makes the book “Benjamin Franklin: The First Mr. American” particularly interesting is the way it’s written. The author of this biography (Roger Burlingame) constantly strives to maintain an objective approach, without particularly glorifying Benjamin Franklin. You feel like you’re watching a documentary about the life of this unusual inventor, without any “Make America Great” or similar vibe. The writing style is simple, informative, but not dry.

With its 150 pages, “Benjamin Franklin: The First Mr. American” is a book that’s a shame not to read. It gives you an insight into America’s history before America (as we know it), the life of people in the 18th century, famous personalities of the time, and, of course, the significance of Benji Franklin for America and the world. 🙂

 

And what is your opinion, dear reader, about Benji Franklin? 🙂

 

(Originally reviewed: 15/03/2020)

 

 

[More about Benjamin Franklin]

Price of the book in Serbia: Makart | Delfi | Dereta | Laguna

Ratings (and purchasing) on international sites: Goodreads | Amazon (US) / Amazon (UK) | Waterstones | Barnes & Noble | Audible (US) / Audible (UK)

 

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